These Guys Play to Win Respect
11:48 PM PDT on Monday, September 4, 2006
By DOUGLAS QUAN
A nickel-and-dime obsession stretching back to the 1980s era of Pac-Man, poufy hair and AC/DC has landed two Inland men in the annals of arcade-game feats.
The Guinness World Records holder for the highest score on three pinball games is Jim Belsito, 36 of Rialto. Belsito has squeezed 31 pinball machines into his house, including one that blocks the front hallway. "It's the ultimate bachelor pad," Belsito said.
The just-released 2007 edition of the Guinness World Records lists among the top arcade game players Riverside's Paul Dean, 41, and Rialto's Jim Belsito, 36. Dean holds the highest score in the classic James Bond-inspired arcade game Spy Hunter, a record he clinched in 1985. Belsito racked up the highest scores on three of 10 pinball games at a tournament in Las Vegas in April.
It is the first time since 1986 that the Guinness book has included a section recognizing video and computer game scores.
"I was basically ignored for many years. I'm very excited about it," said Dean, whose Boy Scout manners belie an intense competitive spirit. "I went to Barnes & Noble and I couldn't believe it. I got a paragraph. Few people get that much space."
The laid-back, sneaker-wearing Belsito was equally elated. The Guinness book has never recognized pinball scores.
"Quite awesome," he said. "Definitely honored to be there."
In this edition, Dean and Belsito join the likes of Alastair Galpin, of New Zealand, who managed to slide 70 socks onto one foot; Dusty, the Texas tabby cat, who produced 420 kittens during her breeding life; Dr. Isa Massaud Issa, of Libya, who deftly completed the game Operation in 1 minute, 2 seconds; and Janet Jackson, the most Googled (and ogled) person on the Internet in 2005.
Video:Jim Belsito shows off his 34 pinball machines
The two men have a lot in common. They honed their video-game blasting and pinball-flipping skills at Riverside's Castle Park arcade in the 1980s, when the graphics were rudimentary, and games emitted simple blips and booms.
They've built at least part of their careers around the arcade game industry. Dean is a trade-show exhibit installer, but he also operates a handful of coin-operated games at businesses across the Inland region. Belsito is co-owner of Riverside-based P S Vending, which operates games across Southern California.
Arcade games cram the homes of both men, who are single. Dean, who recently scooped up a Spy Hunter arcade game for $400 and shelled out another $1,000 to restore it, has 31 arcade games in his house, which he shares with his father. Belsito has squeezed 31 pinball machines in his house, including one that blocks the front hallway.
"It's the ultimate bachelor pad," Belsito said.
Their enthusiasm is infectious and invades much of their personal lives. Dean maintains a Web site, spyhunter007.com, that includes a mind-numbing list of arcade game-related records, articles and links. He is unafraid to boast that his Spy Hunter score of 9,512,590 is more than 10 times greater than the next highest recorded score.
"If I play it once, I can play it forever. ... There's no competitive value," he said. "I've mastered the game."
Last year, at a tournament in Texas, Dean scored a new world record in another classic game, Frenzy, which he played for 41 hours with three breaks.
Belsito, who signs off his e-mails with "Happy Flippin,' " competes in pinball tournaments called "Pinbrawls." He runs a pinball league that meets weekly at a Riverside bar. Twice a year, he hosts a pinball bash at his house open to all Southern California "pinheads."
Belsito enjoyed the 1975 movie, "Tommy," about a boy who becomes a pinball wizard, that was inspired by The Who's rock album of the same name. But the 1979 Brooke Shields flick "Tilt," which is about a young girl who is a pinball wizard, elicits only jeers.
"That was pretty bad," he said. Their parents are among their biggest fans. On the night he found out he was named in the new Guinness book, Dean and his father celebrated with dinner at The Old Spaghetti Factory. Belsito's mother rushed to Costco to pick up three copies of the Guinness book and proudly announced to the cashier that her son was listed inside. So what is the secret to their winning scores?
"You've got to have good hand-eye coordination," Belsito answered dryly.
Dean offered this football coach sound bite: "You just don't give up," he said.
Then, in the next assured breath, he added: "I played seven days a week."